Cole, right and his sister Mia Thomas, of Rumford, Maine check out the decorations on one of several Christmas trees at Holy Savior Church in Rumford, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. Credit: Russ Dillingham / Sun Journal via AP

Just as the Grinch could not stop Christmas from coming to Whoville, the pandemic is not stopping the holidays from coming to Maine in 2020. But the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus has Mainers scaling back traditional gatherings.

But just like it did for those Who’s, the holiday season is coming, just the same.

Over the last nine months since the start of the pandemic, Mainers have gotten used to modifying celebrations. This time of year looks to be no exception, with plans to mark the holidays in some way and a determination to make up for it in a big way next year.

Fewer people around the tree

Jessie Veves had been looking forward to having her family members from around the country come to her Hampden home since early last year when she, her husband and two children moved to Maine.

“We were going to have a real Maine Christmas,” Veves said. “Family was going to come from Delaware, Massachusetts and California but with the pandemic we decided it’s best to not do it this year.”

Instead the Veves will have a family staycation sledding, skating and spending time building an ice rink in the backyard.

“We really want to make it special for our kids,” Veves said. “We are doing a fancy meal from The Lucerne [Inn] on Christmas Eve and there has been a request that I make a ham for Christmas.”

Lise Roy is used to having upwards of 20 or more extended family members and friends in her Grand Isle home for Christmas. This year she is keeping it down to a handful with immediate family only.

“I made the traditional desserts last night and I will make my carrots and turnip casserole my kids like along with a ham and green bean casserole,” Roy said. “But with this small amount of people we are going to have a lot of leftovers.”

There will be no family or friends this year visiting the Bangor Fire Department firehouse for Christmas.

“We usually get together for a big meal with the crew and our family comes in to visit,” said Bangor firefighter Jared Bowden. “It’s going to look very different this year without that.”

The director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Nirav Shah, is going to spend a low key Christmas Day dividing his time between work and immediate family. But he is also looking ahead to a much larger celebration next summer when he can get together with more family and friends.

“We will probably pamper our dog a bit more than we usually do and prepare a nice meal to share with each other,” Shah said. “I imagine I’ll have to work more than I did last year at this time, but it is all with the goal of making things safer for everyone in Maine [and] we are very much looking forward to a Christmas in July celebration at which we can gather safely.”

A new normal

When Roy’s family walks into her house, the traditional foods and appetizers will be spread out, right next to a small table with face masks, hand sanitizer and a thermometer. Guests will be welcome not with a hug, but with elbow bumps.

“We are all going to stay 6 feet apart,” Roy said. “It’s going to be hard because my grandkids are 6 and 9 and they just run at you and want to hug you.”

Roy is doing what she can to make the day extra special for her grandkids, including whipping up virgin strawberry daiquiris for them to enjoy while they open their gifts.

“I bought a nice dress and got [my husband] Claude a nice shirt,” Roy said. “We are just going to try to make it as normal as possible.”

It will be anything but normal for Diane LaChance of Madawaska who will celebrate Christmas with her husband and their rescue dog Daisy.

“COVID has changed everything,” LaChance said. “Last Christmas was wonderful with all the family here laughing and having a blast, but this year I will be alone with Joe.”

LaChance is planning to make the best of it, though. An avid painter, she went out and purchased a supply of fresh canvases and new paints. Her husband is an accomplished guitar player and she bought new guitar strings for him and subscribed to several premium cable channels.

“I am going to paint and watch TV,” LaChance said. “We are not doing the traditional food we normally have but are going to get the biggest lobster we can find and a bottle of champagne.”

Maine Gov. Janet Mills said she is keeping the holiday ideals of charity, joy and love in mind as she celebrates with two or three close family members.

“We will join other [family members], including young grandchildren, virtually watching their faces light up as they open their gifts,” Mills said. “Keeping our distance this year means we will celebrate safely next year.”

The hardest part for LaChance is being apart from her 84-year-old father, who lives in an assisted living facility across the border in Edmundston, New Brunswick. But she plans a virtual visit.

“I have not seen my father since before March,” she said. “But we are survivors and resilient people and we have technology so we can Facetime with him on Christmas.”

Even this year, there are unwelcome guests

As much as Roy wants a houseful of Christmas revellers this year, there is one possible guest that is persona non grata. Or, more to the point, rodent non grata.

“We have had this squirrel showing up in our house,” Roy said. “I got a live trap and researched what to use for bait and learned their favorite food is oranges.”

So every night for the past week or so she has been laying out a squirrel-tempting buffett of oranges, peanut butter and peanuts in hopes of luring the critter into the trap. So far, he’s eluded her and has not been seen for a couple of days.

“That would really be something if he decided to show up on Christmas Day,” Roy said. “The way things are going this year, I could see that happening.”

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.